Monday, March 12, 2012


I’ve never eaten Jerk, nor have I ever made the effort to cook it. I did have a sibling who grew up eating the stuff and exposing me to ox tail and rice more than I’d care to remember. That said, you may not think I have much right to write about Caribbean food in general. But here’s my rhetorical counterpoint: having never eaten Jerk eliminates any bias ostentation I may have about the cuisine in general; there are no cultural culinary underpinnings to influence my perception besides the food’s actual taste. It all works in your favour, comrades. Your gastronomic guide isn’t familiar with all foods. Maybe I’m a little ashamed, but only a little. I’ll admit it, I only started food writing to motivate myself years ago while studying Chinese and Japanese, even more so to not feel so bad about dropping mad cash on congee for years. I’ve spent a small fortune. My beleaguered mother said I could have gone to cooking school using the money I spent. Love you too, Mom.

But eating’s an adventure, after all. That’s why I do it. To keep my life as novel as possible. For the most part, it works. A wise man once said, if you’re unhappy with your life, introduce more things to it. A superficial admission, but not without truth. Inspiring quotes aren’t how I keep my life interesting. But looking for new places is, and the Island Grill extended any gastronomic novelty in my life for at least one more week.

I never thought I’d be backed into any comestible corners in my life. But sometimes it happens. Sometimes it can be a blessing. Today was a good blessing. Even though the two places I went to prior were closed; even though I remembered the days I would wait outside the noodle shop beside the Island Grill’s plaza when I was early for my Chinese class thinking about how I’d probably never eat at the Island Grill. I was more cynical in my youth. I’m much more optimistic now. Like today, for example. I thought it might be nice to pretend I’m somewhere warm, far, far away. It might be nice to try something new. And it was.

The space may have seemed sparse and ill-matched, but it wasn’t uninviting. I liked its original dining space: patriated by Jamaica’s colours, crowded with a la carte items behind a glass counter, riddled with DVDs, spices, television, a welcoming cook and his grandmother. Next door was its bigger dining hall, fit with booths, club lights, a very well equipped bar and speakers. Though a quiet afternoon, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Island Grill saw some exciting nights. With all that and a ubiquitous mural of palm trees and sand I couldn’t deny its cajoling island feel, postcolonial, and weathered (in spirit), but enticing nonetheless.

Having no bearing on what to eat we were given some jerk chicken to sway us. Jerk chicken it was. The menu isn’t intimidating, but it does have enough food to make you think deeply. From curries, to hamburgers, to island favourites, all with island overtones. The a la carte caught my eye. Pastries and dumplings, cheap and inexpensive, waiting to me plucked from behind the glass. I asked for the gizzada, a Jamaican tart filled with shredded coconut and spice, resembling the butter tarts we’re so conventionally used to, but with an obvious twist. An affordable 2.50 for two palm sized portions. I certainly couldn’t complain about the price, or the flavor, though the hearty composure of the thing made chewing something oriented toward strong jaws. Nothing would stop me from getting it again though. Maybe the black cake, or other a la carte items.

When we made up our minds, picked our novelty Caribbean soft drinks and sat ourselves down we asked for, of all things, the jerk chicken. A safe bet, but pushed by the cook nonetheless. Accompanying that was a large bowl of fluffy rice coloured pink by red kidney beans, aptly referred to as peas by our cook, and maybe a little equivocated. It was a portion we thought unnecessary, but later appreciated as it helped to slurp up the rich sauce left over from our jerk chicken.

Accompanying the dish was a chicken soup, flavoured with thyme and hot spices, squash and the bad bits of chicken I personally love to grind between my teeth. It was a familiar thing, coloured amber by the squash, I assume, used to make it. Our salad, another equivocated fare, was a good helping of coleslaw, which I always look forward to. This time however, it missed that vinegary tang I so often love in the stuff. This time it was light, regardless of the savoury mayonnaise used to dress it.

Obviously, our jerk chicken was the most exciting. By the meal’s end we could have done without the side dishes- and the menu does give you the option, making it even more affordable.

If I’ve any disappointment with the dish, it’s that our food came warm rather than hot- an unfortunate symptom of the big batches of food cooked at a time and warmed later. Still, I managed to overlook it, distracted by the rich flavor of the sauce reminiscent of dishes stewed in tomato. Adding to its element was a spicy, smokey flavor that penetrated the meat and turned it into a moist, tender pull that fell off the bone. Not tough, not dry, not elastic like poorly cooked chicken. Again, this chicken could have just been served on its own, no need for sides that are mere pretenses. And even though the flavours weren’t new, the menu remained curious enough to lure me back in the future with hope of something new, novel, and exciting.

Island Grill
2934 King Street East
N2A 1A7

Sun 8:00am - 9:00pm
Mon-Thurs 8:00am - 11:00pm
Fri-Sat 8:00am - 2:00am

Any Payment

Island Grill on Urbanspoon

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